A Lifetime of Giving: Yost and Leak Join Cather Legacy Society

I feel blessed that I’m from Red Cloud. There is exactly one small town in Nebraska that can claim one of the most famous authors in the world, so I’m happy to have the opportunity to give back, in light of all that I’ve been given.” – Jay Yost

Philanthropy goes back a long way in the lives of Wade Leak and Jay Yost, who both started giving to their churches at a young age. “I started tithing the minute I earned 25 cents,” says Wade. “Honestly, it taught me the importance of supporting in a financial way the things you care about.”

Considering this, it’s not surprising that when getting their affairs in order prior to a trip to Egypt in 2015, they made sure that the Willa Cather Foundation (WCF) was included in their estate plans. As Charter Members of the Cather Legacy Society, Jay and Wade value the sustained impact that planned giving assures. “We know there’s a need and we believe in the mission of the Foundation. We want to see it have sustained impact and meaning. On a very concrete level, we can see what the WCF does and we want to continue to support those efforts long after we’re gone.”

As a person whose family roots are deep in the town of Red Cloud, Jay has been involved with the Willa Cather Foundation for as long as he can remember. Preserving the past for future generations is important to him, and the WCF allows him to combine his passion for Willa Cather, Red Cloud and historic preservation. “The physical and natural environment that Cather saw is still available for people to experience today, and in preserving those things you’re also assuring that the town can remain economically viable,” he says. “Cather gives people a reason to rally back to the town. It helps support the long-term health of Red Cloud, and that’s important to us. We appreciate the overlap and are actively involved in that overlap.”

While Jay’s connection to the Cather Foundation is life-long, Wade’s began with his relationship with Jay. As he often says, “If I had to meet a boy from Nebraska I’m glad he was from Red Cloud. That has brought Cather into my life, and so many meaningful experiences and relationships sprang from that.”

Wade notes that it took him awhile to find his own role in the work that Jay does with the WCF. “I really enjoy the experience of human connection. Of course there’s my interest in Cather and her work. But in the long run, it’s really the people you run into and become friends with through the organization. It starts with Cather and goes off into so many amazing directions.”

Living in New York City, people can sometimes find Wade’s and Jay’s deep commitment to the Willa Cather Foundation bewildering. They tell their friends about the profound experience of being in Cather’s hometown. “If you read My Ántonia, for example, the land truly becomes one of the characters in the book, so to really experience Cather you have to experience the land. Once you do that you’re hooked,” they say. One of the most enduring experiences that springs to mind for them is a performance of the opera, The Bohemian Girl, that was staged to help celebrate the re-opening of the Red Cloud Opera House in 2003. Willa Cather saw the same opera on the same stage in the 1880’s. “It was electric,” Jay said. “The fact that she was inspired by that opera, and then some kid 120 years later could be in that same room and be inspired in that same way, it blows your mind.” Wade chimes in, “It was knowing that this would impact the youth, the town, everything going forward … it was really exciting.”

When discussing their decision to include the WCF in their financial legacy, both gentlemen mention the uniqueness of the Foundation. “The Foundation is based in the actual location that inspired the author, rather than in a big city. It’s comprised of scholars, locals, and people who have an interest in Cather. It’s an amalgamation of America. If it was a pure literary society or a pure historic preservation society, you wouldn’t get so many different people from so many different realms working towards a common goal.”

Wade and Jay say that their perpetual financial support for the Foundation is a testament to Cather, the town, Board members, and staff who make things happen – but from their own observations and experience, they feel assured that whatever the Foundation takes on, it’s been well-considered (“Naysayers should always have a voice”, Jay says). Both attorneys by training, they say that it’s easy for anyone to include the Willa Cather Foundation in his or her will. “It’s a piece of cake. Anyone can go on-line and get a state form to write a will. It’s easy to do by yourself if you have an uncomplicated estate.”

Ultimately, Jay and Wade want to make sure that future generations can have the same experiences with Cather and Red Cloud that they’ve enjoyed, whether it’s the historic buildings, the prairie, or the Opera House. “It has brought a lot to us as a couple, and that’s meaningful to us.”

The Cather Legacy Society was founded to recognize individuals who make charitable gift plans to benefit the Willa Cather Foundation beyond their lifetime. Individuals who notify us of their plans in 2016 will join Wade and Jay as charter members of the Cather Legacy Society. If you have made a planned gift to the Foundation or would like more information about doing so, please contact Jeniffer Beahm, Development Associate at 402-746-2653 or